Culture Shock: A Yankee Meets The South

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*I actually wrote this years ago, but the story is still funny, so enjoy! โ˜บ๏ธ

Plenty of factors are to blame for my decision to make the all-emcombassing move from Pennsylvania to unfamilar Arkansas, a sliver of the deep south previously nonexistent to me. College, the companionship of my mother and most of all, a much needed change of scenery, all pushed me to pack up my life and journey twenty hours away from all I knew and loved. But let’s be clear: in no way did I want to BECOME Southern; who I am remains the same regardless of my surroundings. But I took a leap of faith and landed in a place so different that it still continues to shock me. Oh, the experiences of a yankee who crosses way beyond the Mason-Dixon…
On my first Saturday as an actual Arkansas resident, I found myself slumped in the backseat of my step-father’s Volkswagen Jetta, stroking the chilled, nubby surface of the armrest, staring out the window at what seemed like some sort of naturally occuring wasteland: brown lumpy rows of mush running along side one another, one after the next forming a muddy stew blanketing mile after mile of barren fields, stretching as far as I could see in all directions. I would soon learn that this hideous landscape was actually acres and acres of rice fields, a staple of the state and the cornerstone of this area. This was the ‘duck hunting capital of the world’: a city better known as Stuttgart, Arkansas. 
I was informed, or rather warned, by my mother upon my arrival that our presence was expected at a party being thrown by Dave’s fellow employees. After all, his position was the reason he and my mother had relocated south to begin with. After much debate and floundering on my own accord, I had made the trek and was en route to what was to be my first true taste of Arkansas living. It turns out this party was in fact a ‘crawfish boil’ and was being held at the company’s ‘duck camp’. Both of these terms were new to my vocabulary and definitely a mystery to me. What sort of secret backwoods tradition could I possibly be getting myself into? Images of ducks running wild through campsites complete with tents, lanterns and smores flooded my mind, but I hadn’t the slightest inkling as to what this ‘crawfish’ nonsense could be; I was unable to find any memory in which to associate with that term. 
Fresh off the plane, soaking in all my obvious Yankee glory, I watched these rice fields whizzing past, shocked by the utter desolation of this place. Never had I been forced to travel longer than ten minutes (and that’s being generous) to reach some sort of convenience, better known to me as civilization, in its most basic form. I was certain we hadn’t passed a single store in atleast half an hour, not even your basic 7-11. I wondered where these poor fools who had actually chosen to reside here got their toilet paper. What if they craved a Dr. Pepper at 10 PM or ran out of coffee in the morning? My mother sensed my disbelief and made some sort of joke that was hilarious to us, but probably would have offended these folks that must enjoy living so far off the beaten path. 
After one misstep in our directions forced us to turn around in a tiny town called Holly Grove (sounds like a serial killer hot spot, if you ask me), which was basically a handful of crumbling buildings and two old men sitting on a bench in what I guessed to be the ‘town square’, we were finally arriving at our destination, which instantly erased all of my previous expectations of ‘duck camp’. We pulled up to a cabin situated on some sort of waterway, surrounded by woods and dusty terrain. Why this place wasn’t simply referred to as a cabin, (which is exactly what it was) was beyond me, but this was only the beginning of what is now a daily reminder of the stark differences between two opposite regions of the same country. Duck camp or cabin, it was a very nice property, filled with mounted animals and stories of hunts long since past. I was reminded of the weeks I spent at my uncle’s cabin in the mountains of Pennsylvania, but this scenery was vastly different, including the high temperature and sticky heat that smacked me in the face upon exiting the comfort of the air-conditioned car. Yes, there’d be plenty to get used to in my new environment.
Dave was bombarded by friends seemingly ecstatic at his arrival. I was introduced to a number of nice people, who seemed to immediately identify that I was not from around here, even before my ‘accent’ came into play. There were some lawn chairs, a few kids messing around on four-wheelers caked in mud, and even a few smiles lacking a tooth or two. I can remember smiling to myself at the unexpected conformation of my expectations (with no malicious intent, of course). Our new companions commented on my poor choice in clothing for such an occasion (I was wearing white shorts, mind you) and delighted in the fact that I had no clue as to what to expect from any of the day’s activities. The Arkansans had obviously dressed in what I guessed was more appropriate attire: various Razorback shirts, shorts, camoflage in many forms and of course, a hat atop each and every head. But the ensemble of the woman I met next was downright comical. In a long black dress, large decorative hat, plenty of gaudy jewelry and (you’re kidding me, right?) white PANTY HOSE with clunky sandals, she explained that she’s who made the fried pies on the table and gave me a once over I would have expected from someone in a far better role in which to judge. I’m almost positive it was damn near 100 degrees and she was in panty hose and what could have been a blanket. I’ve come to learn that supposedly some Southern women are old-fashioned that way. I’ll take my white shorts any day, thank you very much.
After a barrage of questions and plenty of “say this!” “say that!”, followed by rolling laughter at my family’s ‘yankee accent’ (didn’t they know it was THEM who had the accent?!), it was time to feast. Ah, the time had come to find out about this mysterious ‘crawfish boil’. 
As it turns out, most of the food was downright fabulous: huge pots filled with crawfish, corn, potatoes and sausage, all doused in spicy seasoning with all the trimmings. Although definitely unlike the seafood I so cherish back home, I had no complaints. Well, just one: just how do I go about eating one of these little suckers? 
Ask anyone who has even dined on hardshell crabs with me: I can pick apart crabs like a champion, lightning fast, effective and without waste of any kind. It’s a family tradition and I do it with pride. But these tiny crawfish had no clear point of entry; there was no obvious plan of attack. It was time for my next lesson in the ways of the South. Spoken in a slow, twangy drawl, my directions were to crack the mudbug in half and suck the meat straight out of its head. 
Um, excuse me? As horrifying as this process seemed in theory, it actually proved to be quite effective. But even after I was successful in this ‘head-sucking’ hilarity, I munched on mostly corn, potatoes and peach fried pies for the rest of the meal. Covering my face in crawfish juice was something I only needed to experience a time or two.
With full bellies and plenty of liquid courage, the evening festivities at the ‘duck camp’/cabin commenced. More four-wheeling (which I politely declined thanks to my white shorts and favorite flat sandals), some fishing off the ricketey dock and even a few fireworks. As homesick as I was for my Northern roots, this day of introduction to a Southern style hayday was certainly a pleasant one. Worth the ridiculous drive to the middle of who knows where? Debatable, but you’d hear no complaints from me. Atleast until the drive home. I would definitely regret all that soda I drank when there’s no place with indoor plumbing for miles.
For this Yankee’s first weekend in her new Southern home, the crawfish boil was filled with humor, introduction, and the start of what has become a life that is still a constant state of culture shock, even after all of the years I’ve logged here. There are plenty of Southern ways that still confuse me, surprise me, make me laugh or even make me cringe, but as far as a place to be, the ‘dirty’ south is a comfortable homestead. I am proud of my Northern upbringing, and although I’ll never believe in vast close-mindedness, their conservative lifestyles or (call me crazy) closed liquor stores on Sundays, and I’ll never be caught dead in panty hose, or see the necessity in churches the size of the White House, but I’ll admit I like calling Arkansas home. My ‘yankee accent’ is far from a ‘southern twang’, but a blending of these two wild and weird cultures make for a life I can surely be content with.

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Infinitely Young and Ultimately Old.

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When did I get so old? Seriously? I feel like my younger years are so far behind me, yet I know I’m nowhere near what is considered to be truly ‘old’. But when I look back to just a few years ago, I wonder not only how I’m still alive, but what happened to my life AT ALL? The obvious answer is my son, who for as much love as he gives me in return, has basically sucked every ounce of younger life from me until he moves out (or so I figure). But in not such a literal sense, life really DOES take a toll on you after awhile. Being an adult is exhausting.

But then again, do I consider myself an adult? I’d like to say absolutely, but honestly: not a chance. There are so many people my age or younger that to me, are the perfect examples of how to ‘adult’ properly: a ‘big kid’ job, house, money in savings, concrete plans for the future and, last but not least, somehow manage to look like they have their shit together every single day. 

Then there’s me: who is lucky to get a shower, let alone put makeup on and pick out a good outfit, went to college but has no serious direction of my future plans, and panics when it comes time to actually face most of my responsibilities. I always tell myself we’ll eventually get it together, but I can’t help but be clouded by my own doubts. And honestly, I think this stems from always allowing myself to enjoy the fun side of life and living by not taking anything too seriously, which I don’t think is always a bad thing. Mind you, I’m always wondering if growing up means accepting defeat of some part of yourself.
But no matter how my responsibilities differ from day to day (aka mom life), from the easy ones all the way to the ‘is this what hell is?’ category, I’m still that teenage weirdo, smoking too much in a random fox racing tshirt and holes in my jeans, wearing too much eyeliner and not giving a damn about much of anything. Even if I’m now setting an example for a little miniature human, I can’t pretend to be something I’m not. I can’t pretend to have it all together, but you know what? That means I NEVER have to pretend to be a good mother, because regardless if I’m in a hoodie with a messy bun at the store surrounded by Betty Cleavers, my kid is the happiest of all. This much I definitely know for sure.

I guess the point of this is give any mother a pat on the back, no matter what age they are and what doubts they face day in and day out. Don’t find yourself feeling so old that you lose your ‘you-ness’; don’t hide whatever little version of yourself might be lurking underneath all that ‘adult’. Seems like everyone has it all together? Maybe they do, but maybe they aren’t as vivacious as you are. Maybe their glimmer is a little duller. Embrace every little thing, and your little mini thing will thank you! โ˜บ๏ธ

  

First or Third Person: The Story of This Currently Conflicted Writer

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After what seems like months with nothing but dry ideas and lack of motivation, some promising inspiration suddenly hit me last night. I was up for what was probably way too long trying to plant specific story points that came to mind, hoping that by morning I wouldn’t forget all this creative gold (it had been a long time coming, ok?! ๐Ÿ˜Š) and lucky for me, I woke with a head full of characters and plot lines, scenery and tone, not to mention lovely optimism towards finally wanting to write.

I do realize I am getting way ahead of myself, that this is all just still free writing and we all know that what may or (usually) may not come of that. But my main issue lately, the bane of my writing existence is deciding between writing in first or third person

I’ve played around a bit with both ways, and while it seemed I could probably go either way, atleast in the short beginning drafts I was toying with, but I worry. 

If I go for first person, am I going to be able to throughly build a good story from only one perspective? But if I choose third person, will I get too bogged down with description and struggle creating necessary dialogue?

Please tell me you’ve been there, too. I guess this is why they say the hardest part of writing is actually starting to write. ๐Ÿ˜Š

Whatever It Meant.

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Any day is the right day for some HST! As obsessed as I’ve been with his work for years, I still read his words in his Gonzo style with great wonder; not before or since has a writer been able to capture a feeling, a memory, or a moment so vividly for his many avid readers.
I wonder what my son will think when I tell him I read Fear and Loathing for the fourth time out loud to him while he was still in my belly ๐Ÿ™‚

Rest of my Life

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“Let us plant trees that bear positive fruits And nourish our youth with compassionate truth That enlighten the mind to the deepest of roots, all the way to the core where the soul can stay true Where I can walk free with a joint in my hand And I can plant plants right upon my land Help emโ€™ understand these are nature’s laws My creator had visions in the things he saw”โœŒ๏ธ๐Ÿ’šโœจ

Kottonmouth Kings “Rest of my Life”

Who We Once Were and Where We Might Go

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I should probably start off by saying that I don’t consider myself a religious person. I was baptized Catholic, but my parents were always open-minded; I have almost zero memories of being at church on Sundays, and our version of saying grace before dinner was the classic “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food…” rhyme said by my sister or me. I guess we were the kind of people who showed up for the important stuff (I still enjoy a beautiful midnight mass on Christmas Eve!) but church just wasn’t a priority in my upbringing. As I got older, there was never an ounce of pressure from my family to live the way the Lord wished, or to do the ‘godly’ thing and go to church every single Sunday and stay after for a session in the confessional (to this day, I’m extremely thankful for this, and will allow my son to make decisions on his faith in the same manner.) But although my faith isn’t a huge factor in my life, and being Catholic technically means you’re Catholic and ONLY Catholic and ALWAYS will be, as well as your entire family (if you’re a crazy Catholic as well, you know what I’m talking about…) but I would say there’s bits and pieces from various religions or spiritual beliefs that I find very intriguing. And although a lot of the teachings are practically the opposite of what I may or may not have learned being Catholic, I seem to most identify with a lot of the beliefs of Buddhism or Hinduism. I find peace and comfort from the universe, nature, positive vibes and good karma. It actually kind of blows my mind how the messages resonate with me; there’s nothing complicated to the spiritual philosophy ‘When I do good, I feel good and when I do bad, I feel bad type of religion.
I’ve always had a fascination with the concept of a “Past Life”. I think it’s possible that our soul is so much more than the body it happens to reside in: it feels possible to me that I may have existed elsewhere at another time, and may even exist again, even though I’ve got plenty of life left to live, of course. I went through a lot of ‘phases‘ in my younger years; for instance, I basically lived each day for Catwoman. I had a Catwoman theme birthday party, a Catwoman bike, Catwoman footie pajamas and some days even made my mom call me Catwoman at all times. (Oh, for the love of funny memories…I’m chuckling like a school girl thinking about that). I was in third grade when my “hippie phase” hit me. Hard. I loved the Gerry Bears (a Grateful Dead icon) and bought the plushes in plenty of colors. I immediately wanted anything with a peace sign or a VW Beetle on it. I dreamed of rocking at Woodstock and putting flowers in soldiers’ guns while protesting Vietnam. I wanted every T-shirt in my closet to be tie-dye and all my jeans to be flared, with a ying-yang patch on the knee for good measure. I was definitely a suburban flower (very young) child. It was funny to my parents, and went on for quite some time, as did other phases. But then, years later, my dreams started to take on a 60s-like feel. By this time, I had learned a little more about that point in history and felt drawn to the events that unfolded during those times and places. But there was definitely more to it than make-believe: I’d wake up and fully remember my surroundings (including watching Jimi Hendrix play the ‘Star Spangled Banner early in the morning at Woodstock, or exploring the theories of Timothy Leery) and believed whole-heartedly in being ‘Far out, man. But even beyond that, I feel a connection to that time in history. The music, the culture, the revolution, the rebelliousness. Not to mention the weed. Do I one hundred percent believe I was really there? Maybe not, but I don’t think it’s totally impossible, either. Buddhists believe in reincarnation, and I feel I can identify with that (far more than I find myself identifying with Catholicism, anyway). Plus, I’m a big fan of enlightment through experience, instead of ‘repent for all you’ve done, and you might reach nirvana. Ugh.
Plus, I’m a big fan of belief in the unknown. Conspiracies, ghosts among us, aliens-I love to theorize about what goes against the norm (by the way, if you actually think that our tiny planet is the only place with life in the entire gargantuan universe surrounding us, then you are an idiot. I hope someday you have an experience like Christopher Columbus when he did NOT sail off the edge of the ‘flat’ Earth. No offense โ˜บ๏ธ) and wondering about the sort of powers the universe holds that those who aren’t looking would never see. I think that’s why I have some disdain towards organized religion: I don’t like the “I’m right and you’re wrong” mentality, the “none of this incredible beauty around us would be possible without God” riffraff, or the “This is what the Bible says, therefore it MUST be true!” rantings (If ANYONE thinks I’d be totally down for being “beneath” my husband because that’s the word of the Lord, or that it’s ok to burn books because their content might go against the moral guidance of the Bible, let me tell you: THERE IS SIMPLY NO WAY IN HELL.) I feel connected with a higher power when I see a beautiful night sky full of stars, when I’m quietly meditating and reading something fabulous, or when my son points at the sun and smiles back at me. Heaven means something different to everyone, but especially to those who choose to look at it beyond pearly gates or God perched on a cloud. To me, I see heaven every time the night is clear and millions of twinkling stars shine brightly with the moon, a mere glimpse of the improbable beauty that lies beyond it.
I seem to be rambling, but all that really needs to be said is imagine the possibilities if others weren’t so confined by their particular set of beliefs. Whether you see a higher power is a magestic man watching us from above, or believe that with good karma comes Samsฤra (cycles of rebirth), life is what you make it, so enjoy it while you’re here!
…I know my hippie self did, and so shall I! ๐Ÿ˜„

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